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Greg Garcia: The Last in a Line of Lefty Utilities?

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A dying breed of Cardinals utility players

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

A certain type of Cardinal could be spotted on the active roster longer than the Redbirds have been at Busch Stadium III. In the lineup or off the bench, the role of “scrappy, left-handed utility guy” has been filled since 2005 when Skip Schumaker had his 27-game cup of coffee to start an 11-year career. Following Skip was Daniel Descalso, who then handed the reins to Greg Garcia, the current torchbearer. You, dear reader, don’t need to be reminded of the names — those three players remain well-regarded in St. Louis and fresh in the memories of Cardinals fans. Schumaker gets a call-out on Fox Sports Midwest every time the Cardinals play San Diego, by whom he’s employed as a first base coach. When the Dbacks play at Busch, Descalso still gets an ovation as he steps to the plate. Cardinal Nation doesn’t forget a steady contributor, regardless of their role, but these three are made all the more special by the fact that they were both drafted and developed by the organization. Of all three, Greg Garcia best fits the archetype and represents the final “evolution,” so to speak, of the Cardinals’ homegrown, left-handed utility player.

Similarities

Though they aren’t constant across the board, there are some similarities between Garcia and his two predecessors — more so with Schumaker than Descalso. The following stats are only those recorded while wearing the birds on the bat:

LH Utility Stats (as a Cardinal)

NAME PA AVG OBP SLG OPS BB/K ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+ WAR
NAME PA AVG OBP SLG OPS BB/K ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+ WAR
Greg Garcia 737 0.258 0.367 0.357 0.724 0.6 0.099 0.325 0.324 102 3.1
Daniel Descalso 1380 0.243 0.313 0.341 0.654 0.5 0.098 0.293 0.288 81 0.8
Skip Schumaker 2687 0.288 0.345 0.377 0.722 0.7 0.088 0.323 0.321 97 3.5

Garcia and Schumaker are nearly identical when it comes to OPS and wOBA. They all have pretty similar K/BB ratios. Garcia’s ISO is much more similar to Descalso’s. While Descalso was pretty rough as a hitter for St. Louis—though his bat has exploded for Arizona in 2018—Schumaker and Garcia carry pretty similar profiles, with Garcia having above-average production, indicated by his 102 wRC+. Here are some batted ball numbers that further cement the Garcia/Schumaker comparison, and even highlight the positive ways Greg has emulated the best bits of Descalso:

Batted Ball Data (as a Cardinal)

NAME LD% GB% FB% Pull% Center% Oppo% Soft% Med% Hard%
NAME LD% GB% FB% Pull% Center% Oppo% Soft% Med% Hard%
Greg Garcia 25.5% 50% 24.5% 31.4% 37.7% 31% 18.4% 58.6% 23%
Daniel Descalso 19.8% 46.4% 33.8% 44.3% 32.9% 22.8% 19% 55% 26%
Skip Schumaker 21.6% 57.1% 21.3% 31.8% 36.7% 31.5% 14.7% 63.2% 22.1%

Schumaker and Garcia have Pull/Center/Oppo profiles that differ by just one percent, and those profiles indicate a high level of skill in driving the ball to all fields, more often than not hitting it on the nose. Garcia leans more toward Descalso when it comes to how hard he hits the ball, though, with about a 3.6% difference between their profiles. Garcia hits the ball a bit harder than Schumaker did as a Cardinal, sacrificing some medium contact and increasing soft contact in the process.

An area where Garcia pushes ahead of both of his counterparts is in LD/GB/FB splits. He hits both line drives and fly balls each about a quarter of the time. Schumaker was very groundball heavy in St. Louis, accounting for nearly 60% of his batted balls. Descalso cranked out a fly ball once in every three batted ball events (BBE), but had a LD% in the teens. Greg Garcia has been able to combine the all-fields approach of Schumaker, the harder contact of Descalso, and a LD/FB approach of his own to provide more value at the plate than those previously filling his role.

There’s more to Garcia’s value, though. If you noticed the WAR column in the first table, you saw that Greg is already close to Schumaker’s St. Louis WAR total in just over one-fourth of the plate appearances. Two components of Greg Garcia’s game are what truly makes him the best fit for the left-handed utility archetype — his pinch hit ability and his defense.

Differences: Pinch-Hitting

It’s important to note that Schumaker and Descalso were utilized differently than Garcia has been. Schumaker had three seasons with more than 500 PA. Descalso typically logged between 350 and 425. Garcia’s most involved season was 2017, where he took 290 trips to the plate; ZiPS (RoS) projections expect his 2018 total to be around that mark as well. Some might argue that consistent play allowed the holes in the approaches to Schumaker and Descalso to be exploited, thus resulting in stretches of poor play that hurt their overall performance. This school of thought ignores that, for Garcia to have posted better wRC+ and WAR totals in fewer chances, he had to do very well in his limited opportunities. Here are the numbers for all three players while pinch-hitting:

Pinch Hitting Stats (as a Cardinal)

NAME PA BB% K% OPS ISO wRC+
NAME PA BB% K% OPS ISO wRC+
Greg Garcia 149 15.4% 24.2% 0.745 0.094 114
Daniel Descalso 128 6.3% 22.7% 0.504 0.070 43
Skip Schumaker 150 5.3% 16.0% 0.623 0.074 67

About 20% of Greg Garcia’s career PA have come as a pinch hitter, and he’s excelled in the role. There are only 22 players who have 100 or more PA as a pinch hitter since the start of 2014, and Garcia’s wRC+ of 114 ranks fifth among them. (Interestingly enough, Matt Adams holds the fourth spot with a 121 wRC+.) His OBP of .395 ranks third. Only four players have more PA in that role than Garcia’s 149. He’s delivered most of his damage coming off the bench — one of, if not the most difficult hitting situations in Major League Baseball.

Differences: Defense

Fielding is the other area where Garcia has distinguished himself form his predecessors, and he’s been able to do so just by avoiding being a liability on the diamond. Garcia’s career DRS total for St. Louis breaks even at zero. He’s been worth zero DRS at second base, -4 at third and 4 at shortstop (which is interesting, given how short is perceived to be a much more challenging position). Daniel Descalso played every infield position for the Redbirds and accounted for -22 DRS over his Cardinal career, including -19 at shortstop alone. Skip Schumaker was positive in the outfield (3 DRS), but received the bulk of his playing time at second, where he tallied -42 over eight seasons. His DRS total in St. Louis was -39.

Yikes.

Garcia has been able to boost his value as a player compared to those who previously filled his role by holding steady at what essentially amounts to a net zero with the glove. A player who can fill a defensive hole without being a burden—especially in the middle infield—and produce quality pinch-hit appearances—especially from the left side—will always have a place on a major league team. Greg Garcia represents the culmination of the Cardinals’s attempts to draft and develop a player with that skill set, and his 2018 performance to-date indicates he’ll be able to continue to do so.

Who’s Next?

The trend over these 13 seasons has been to have a transition year, or two. Schumaker played with Descalso a bit before moving on. Though much more brief, Descalso and Garcia had the same opportunity. We all know what happens when we assume, but the talent produced by the Cardinal farm system combined with the precedent set by Schumaker and Descalso would indicate that Garcia will be out of St. Louis after his final arbitration season (2021). In the spirit of a somewhat arbitrary desire to keep this tradition of a player with a certain set of characteristics, let’s take a look and see if there are any other iterations of Schumaker/Descalso/Garcia waiting in the wings.

The only left-handed middle infielder above Peoria in the Cardinals system is Max Schrock. There are mixed opinions on Schrock; some say his contact ability is elite and will play at the bigs, other worry it’s masked a lack of power in the minors. Regardless of those performance-centered, valid points, the detail that stops Schrock from fitting this superficial bill is that he wasn’t drafted by the Cardinals. Though he would still be considered internally developed, he was a piece picked up in the Piscotty trade with the Athletics this past offseason. Additionally, Schrock hasn’t played a position other than second since 2016. Sorry, Max.

Peoria is where we find two candidates: Irving Lopez and Yariel Gonzalez.

Drafted in the 19th round of last year’s draft, the soon-to-be 23-year-old Lopez has put up some solid numbers at the plate in his 101 professional games. He’s striking out under 20% of the time and walking just under 10% with a 118 wRC+. He’s extremely flyball-heavy, accounting for 42.8% of his batted balls. He’s listed as a second baseman, where he’s played most of his innings, but has also played a third a bit in 2018. Lopez started roughly 15% of his 2017 games at shortstop, but has yet to log any innings there this year.

Gonzalez just turned 24 and has been on a steady climb since debuting in rookie ball in 2016. He’s showing quite a bit more patience at the plate than Lopez, with an 8.4% BB%, 11% K% and .320/.374/.433 triple-slash. Gonzalez is an extremely versatile fielder, having logged time at every infield position as well an inning in left field in 2018. He’s listed as a first baseman and has predominantly played at the corners this year, but his glove clearly plays all around the diamond.